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Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

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Sundance: Zora Howard in "Premature"

Murtada Elfadl reporting from Sundance


Once in a while, a film comes along where the actual experience of watching it is so enjoyable, it stirs a cozy reaction. A certain contentment, a satisfied smile washes over you as you spend time with the characters and the story. The type of film, the rhytyms, the stories that stir that reaction in me can differ but Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Premature is one of those movies.

The film follows Ayana (played by Zora Howard who co-wrote the screenplay with the director) through her last summer in Harlem before she leaves New York for college...

She hangs and banters with her girlfriends, banters and clashes with her mother and meets a handsome slightly older musician, Isaiah (Joshua Boone). Their blooming romance is nimbly but quietly observed. From tentative courtship to deep connection, it feels authentic and true to these characters. It’s not surprising to know that Howard and Green based the screenplay partly on their own experiences.

It all rings true. As does the comfortable rapport and chemistry between the actors. Not just between the two alluring leads but also between Howard and the actresses who play her girlfriends. The story beats are familiar, in fact the bump in the road the lovers have to deal with is telegraphed to the audience in several scenes before it happens. Still the way it is resolved is so emotional it carries through effortlessly.That familiarity also works to the advantage of the film, giving us that cozy feeling. Ayana and Isaiah seem like old friends we knew once and are happy to catch up with again. It is to Green’s credit that he is able to conjure that feeling in the audience. It is also joyful to see two black people in present day American falling in love and being together without any threats to them because of their blackness or systemic injustice. Green and Howard do not ignore the push and pull of societal forces. How could they when their story is set in Harlem? But it’s not the focus.

A theme that the film explores and doesn’t get portrayed much elsewhere is how do you try to save a relationship when you know it’s seismic. When you know it won’t ever get better than this. Howard is able to telegraph that in touching and affecting ways. Her heartbreak and burgeoning experience comes through clearly as her character navigates the downs of this up and down love affair. It’s a performance that will make many people ask “Who’s that?” I suspect once people know Howard’s name, they won’t soon forget it.


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